I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Sector 4: Extraction

tn_sector4“A mercenary that gives a fuck. Great.”

Sometimes I watch a movie that’s hard to even squeeze a review out of. I could do a consumer reports type deal telling you the plot and that it’s boring and mediocre, but I wouldn’t have much of the ol’ insight to offer. Usually if I feel that way I just don’t bother writing anything. This one is borderline, but I’m gonna try to tough it out because I consider it historically important: it’s the directorial debut of Olivier Gruner.

Ah shit, now I looked it up and this is his third movie as a director. So it’s not even a milestone or anything. Why did I watch the whole thing?

mp_sector4Gruner also co-wrote the movie and stars as Nash, a private military contractor who is dearly missed by his wife and his son Max (played by Gruner’s actual son Nash Gruner – does this mean Gruner is playing the grown up version of his own son? Does this take place in the future? I do not know the answers to these questions.)

Nash and his colleagues go on a mission to kill an Al Qaeda leader in “Sector 4,” explained as the most dangerous area along the Pakistan border. They get captured, hooded, tortured, etc. until Nash escapes and walks to freedom. Then it’s kind of a RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART 2 or UNCOMMON VALOR type deal where he finds out his buddies are still alive, but no one will help him get them back, so he decides to just do it by himself as a private citizen.

How can he pull it off? By training. Some fighting lessons, some mountain climbing, some shooting lessons. That should do it. This is one of the highlights of the movie, to the extent that anything in it could be called a highlight. I kinda liked it because I’m pretty sure Gruner was getting real lessons from people and recording it. At least in the quick draw marksmanship scene that seemed to be the case.

There’s alot of contrasting the contractors and their tough missions with their wives and kids back home. This is my actual favorite part of the movie because it seems like it has to be Gruner’s real house and some of their real wives and kids, and it keeps intercutting between the torture in the Middle East and the moms making a bunch of pizzas for the kids.

It has a very home-made, use-your-relatives-and-neighbors-as-the-supporting-cast type of feel and inept storytelling and filmatism. It opens with a long piece of first person narration by Gruner, then the expository scene where he’s recruited for the mission, then lengthy on screen text (read out loud by a narrator). But in case you’re still confused, about 27 minutes in they have a TV journalist on the scene with a live report of just re-re-explaining what Sector 4 is and offering no other information. It’s weird.

There’s a really weird filmatistic technique where Nash runs into a bunch of other soldiers in the area and they have a conversation in the dark. But it’s all just a dark blue scene with hard to make out silhouettes. They all sound like non-actors but I honestly can’t tell if they’re really in the shot or dubbed on later.

At the very end the reporter mentions that the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are (spoiler) still unknown. I’ll be charitable and assume that means it’s a period piece, not that it’s been sitting on a shelf for years. It’s a prequel to ZERO DARK THIRTY, maybe.

To the movie’s credit the triumphant-sounding music by Michael Sean Colin (KILLJOY 3), though generic, does sound professional. If it had been as sucky as the movie I bet I would’ve turned it off.

The family scenes back home are laughably saccharine. The poor wife has to speak entirely in cliche. “You know, I actually thought this time was gonna be different. For the first time I believed that you were going to change things, and be a better father to Max.”

The son dreams of his dad taking him to the Grand Canyon and I will give you zero guesses which wonder of the world he takes him to at the end to prove that he really loves him even though he’s gone all the time.

All this is forgivable from a no-budget DTV directorial work by a lesser known martial arts star. What is not forgivable is the worthless action scenes, which are mostly just muzzle flashes in the dark. You can hardly see anything and even when you can there’s no attempt for the images to connect together and communicate what specifically is going on. It’s just like kids in a backyard yelling “BANG! BANG! BANG!” at each other. I’m not even gonna give it an ACR because me opening up Photoshop right now would be more effort than they seemed to put into planning those scenes out.

Eric Roberts actually gets top billing. He’s in several scenes in somebody’s apartment probly filmed in a day. The DVD has a trailer for the first EXPENDABLES on it, which seemed kind of out-of-date to me, but maybe it’s because Eric Roberts could almost be playing the same character. He’s the sleazy CIA guy who hires the mercenaries and doesn’t necessarily have their best interests in mind. (by “doesn’t necessarily” I actually mean “doesn’t.” The “necessarily” is silent.)

Luckily I am a positive individual, I look for the good in people or in movies and I found two moments in this boring movie that were pretty special. I describe them now in reverse chronological/quality order.

2. At the end, of course, Nash makes a deal with Eric Roberts which includes demand number three, “I want out. For good.”

And the bastard looks at him, and thinks about it, and he says, “I’ll miss you” and he signs the paper.

1. There’s a scene where the Al Qaeda guy comes to some of his soldiers and says “The Americans are coming” and “Are you ready for death?” and that type of shit that movie terrorists say to rally the troops against the infidels. But before that he asks them sincerely, “How is everyone? Good?”

I did not expect that little moment of non-evil for the villain, especially not in this barely-a-movie.

In the end SPOILER Nash realizes that his “no man left behind” policy should really extend to his son. He should stop working and just be with his son all the time. So if they make another one I guess it’ll be SECTOR 5: VACATION or something.

All this corny stuff would be really effective if there was any action movie meat on top, but there’s zero. Sorry.

But rather than dwelling on this being a dud let’s be productive. Please recommend to me any genuinely enjoyable Olivier Gruner movies. I think Isaac Florentine’s SAVATE might be the only Gruner I’ve even seen.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 7th, 2014 at 1:03 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

29 Responses to “Sector 4: Extraction”

  1. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but the original NEMESIS had a genuinely ambitious cyberpunk plot, along with a few niftily choreographed gunfights. (UNDERWORLD totally bogarted the shoot-an-escape-tunnel-through-the-floor bit.) Definitely a cut above Pyun’s usual output.

  2. I seem to recall ANGEL TOWN having its moments.

  3. flyingguillotine

    August 7th, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Yeah, I remember liking NEMESIS, and there was another in which he was an android called AUTOMATON, if I recall correctly.

  4. Vern, just so you don’t beat yourself up too much, I’m pretty sure this is only his second directorial feature. IMDB lists three, but “One Night” and “Re-Generator” have the same cast and characters, and the only review Ive been able to find says that “Re-Generator” is a retitle of “One Night,” which as far as I can tell never actually had an official release under that title. So you only missed the historic milestone by one movie.

  5. KaeptnKrautsalat

    August 8th, 2014 at 12:57 am

    I second NEMESIS, ANGEL TOWN and AUTOMATIC. MERCENARY is also pretty fun.

  6. I remember SAVATE by our friend Isaac Florentine as kind of cool.

  7. But how were Sectors 1-3?

  8. Ah…franchise humor. The best kind.

  9. NEMESIS is a classic.

    “What is not forgivable is the worthless action scenes, which are mostly just muzzle flashes in the dark. You can hardly see anything and even when you can there’s no attempt for the images to connect together and communicate what specifically is going on. It’s just like kids in a backyard yelling “BANG! BANG! BANG!” at each other. I’m not even gonna give it an ACR because me opening up Photoshop right now would be more effort than they seemed to put into planning those scenes out.”

    Ironically this makes me want to see the movie now. I can’t fathom what such on screen ineptness could look like. I love seeing such incompetence sometimes because it’s as intriguing as studying a Kusama painting. It’s textbook definition of what NOT to do if you ever shoot a movie. So there’s an educational element to it all.

  10. If I remember correctly Automatic is pretty awesome.

    Does anybody remember what they were thinking going the route of the jacked up female body builder for Nemsis 2 and 3?

  11. Nic Cage’s stars in a Historical Martial Arts flick set in China called OUTCASTS (2015)

    Trailer
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9w8aobrMxk

  12. I really enjoyed Nemesis , and I also have a soft spot for Cyborg 2 , the one with Angelina Jolie and Billy Drago .It’s not directed by Pyun , but I think it’s at least in the same continuity , or universe , like Marvel phase 1 . Let’s see : Pyun directed Cyborg , and also Nemesis ( in Italy called Cyborg – The Revenge ) , and then there’s the real sequel Cyborg 2 ( one of Drago’s finest moments) , followed by Cyborg 3 with McDowell . And of course , Nemesis 2 ( also called Cyborg Terminator ), 3 and 4 ! Man , I remember getting really confused at the video store , and I’m still waiting for the crossover movie !

  13. You critics never done anything in your life, Starbucks talkers, just talk bad about anything you get your hands on to get frustration out, the big guys have millions the independents have thousands, they help young talents, you are killing this business, it is dying with the illegal downloads. Great job guys!

  14. Sorry to offend you. But I promise you I don’t drink Starbucks or do illegal downloads and I write positive reviews of low budget action movies all the time, it’s my favorite thing to do. Don’t worry about me bud, but I think you should learn to take whatever constructive criticism you can get. Keep making ’em, I’ll give your next one a shot.

  15. Studio executives hate this guy!

  16. First and foremost. Im not a movie critic but i am a huge fan of action movies, particularly 80’s and early 90’s ones. I will say this movie is not the greatest product I’ve seen. It has nothing to do with the fact it is a low budget film, but perhaps the laziness by the producers, the main cast and above all the director’s failure to put together a good product. A few examples: 1. Lack of realistic tactics that real life operators use. Do some research! Use the damn google machine! Its easy.
    2. CIA operatives dont just dish out intelligence. C’mon buddy! Everybody lnows that. I thought so anyway.
    3. Using the same drone shot like 10 times in a film is just plain lazy. You may have paid for it but come on your spitting in the face of your audience.
    4. The self promotion by Mr. Gruner is a little overboard. Okay, we get it it. You do mma and you’re in great shape, but are multiple montages necessary?
    I can kepp going but I don’t want to make this long winded.
    As for the character who labels himself as T1 who’s link takes you to Gruner’s website. If this is Gruner himself(?) , you sir should be above this. I know you are a proud man, but to lash out at critics of your work is a bit extreme. Not everyone will like a movie, i mean there are critics who dislike Citizen Kane, obviously your movie is far from that. With that being said, to use the excuse of this is a low budget film to justify the reason why this film isn’t as good as what the big boys do, is asinine. I don’t see Mr. Eastwood jumping on a website to comment about Play Misty For Me. Dude, your a good man but don’t stoop to this level. Let the critics do their thing. The writers and behind the scene people of your movie and all low budget movies work tediously to make deadlines and to invision the movie their employers would like, so don’t drag them through the mud of what critics and viewers say about it. They may be young and excited about making their first couple films and look forward to see what their move has done.

  17. This movie is horrible and the acting is even worse.

    Watching this movie is depressing because I actually thought Gruner had potential in the few things I had previously seen of his (I know Im in the minority) and was sort of a fan. I know indies are tough to make and everyone is on a budget but this “movie” looks like a bunch of school boys playing good guy bad guy in their backyard, except they’ve got a video camera!! Im actually embarrassed for all involved it is so awkward.

    Its one thing if these guys don’t have much experience making movies but don’t they have anyone telling them “this is not a script”, “this is not acting”…

    Thing that sucks about action genre is that everything else has to either be done a) so subtly and artfully to give it a realistic feel or b) so over the top kill bill style off the hook (only quinten and a few can pull this off!) If you cant manage either, you look like a big goof and your movie flops along with your career. I for one have no interest in seeing any more movies with these “actors” attached… better watch my kids in the backyard get into a water fight!

    It seems as though Gruner has lost “it” (if he ever had it) … and is really loosing it with crazy defensiveness. Who argues with Vern?! (who is SPOT ON in my view most of the time!!) Gruner – dude- just putting the nail in the coffin.

  18. First off, great review, Vern. Really got a kick out of the whole ‘Is he playing the future-version of his own son’ line. I thought the very same thing myself.

    Second, wow, I’ve never seen a filmmaker react like this toward criticism. Lashing out like that at your audience (whose review, even though negative, is providing your film with FREE publicity) and then following it up with the cliche defense mechanism(s) of “we give new guys a chance/we have low budgets” is insulting. You’re the director. The director is the boss and has final say over every aspect of production. Pointing fingers at crew members – whether they’re inexperienced or not – for the film’s shortcomings is ridiculous. You hired them. If they are, in fact, inexperienced (most of the people credited on the movie’s IMDB page have a pretty extensive filmography, as far as I can tell), blaming them for a bad end result is no way to get an audience to sympathize with you. Especially when you have about 17 credits on the film. (Produced by, Directed by, Starring, etc.)

    Take responsibility, handle the criticism (good or bad), buck up, and make a better movie next time. Alienating and insulting your audience/crew will not help you in the future. I’ve seen filmmakers posting backyard horror movies on YouTube handle criticism more valiantly than this.

    It’s truly disappointing that a celebrity would resort to this behavior in a public forum. Even more dissapointing, it looks like Gruner has done the very same thing on IMDB message boards regarding this and other films of his. Sorry, but you’ve lost a long-time fan. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the film; it has entirely to do with this immature reaction to your critics, fans, employees and colleagues.

    Sorry to rant on your page here, Vern. Again, it was a great review and I always look forward to hearing your thoughts on action flicks!

  19. Well, Vern, constructive criticism yes, is helpful, but nothing constructive about this! Just lazy opinions from people who have never tried to do what they are doing in making the independent films in this town and this buiz.

    And if this movie so terrible guys, please tell me why another movie being made with basically same story even some of same actors, only different context, made by different people? Could it be because it IS great movie and great potential and some people have taste? Who would have thought!

  20. Have you ever paved a road? Probably not. Yet you still feel entitled to complain about potholes. You don’t need to be a professional to recognize shoddy workmanship.

  21. I mean, we all appreciate the effort. We get that it’s really hard to make a good movie under those conditions. Or any conditions, really. We might not be movie stars or filmmakers ourselves but we’ve all worked hard and tries to do things with our lives. Sometimes you pull it off and sometimes you don’t. Nobody graded us on a curve either. We had to take our lumps just like you.

  22. Also, you’re not gonna find an online community that’s more receptive to your work than us. And you’ve been nothing but arrogant and dismissive of us. I don’t think you won any fans here today, pal.

  23. I don’t know what to tell you, man. I’m sorry I offended you. It is a more negative review than I usually write, but I watched it and wrote about it because I love this kind of movie and I’m always looking for good ones. Believe me, I didn’t want to not like the movie. At least I found a few things to praise. If anybody else ever writes a review of it I bet you ten bucks they won’t compliment the pizza party or the terrorist asking “How is everyone? Good?” like I did.

    Anyway, you’ve changed my mind, it sounds like watching any of your future directorial works would be a mistake on my part, but I will watch some of your other movies that people recommended to me and I wish you luck in all your endeavors.

  24. Goddamit guys, we were this close to getting Vern challenged to another fight and you had to go and be all polite.

  25. Mr. Gruner would definitely win but it would be so dark nobody would see what happened.

  26. Wow! Now I know which movie not to watch in the foreseeable future.

  27. >”Mr. Gruner would definitely win but it would be so dark nobody would see what happened.”

  28. BillyLikestoDrinkSoda

    September 12th, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I’m flabbergasted by this. Why can’t he just let it go? Man up. Stop insulting everyone and just move on. That’s what a professional filmmaker would do. Real artists should be able to handle criticism without resorting to this behavior.

    Best of luck on the next project, I mean that sincerely. I hope it turns out great. Just stop attacking your audience, please.

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